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Study: Blacks More Likely To Be Wrongfully Convicted

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A study released on March 17 finds that black Americans are far more likely to be wrongfully convicted of major crimes than white Americans.

While black Americans make up only 13 percent of the population, "they constitute 47 [percent] of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (as of October 2016), and the great majority of more than 1,800 additional innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large-scale police scandals and later cleared in 'group exonerations,'" the study, led by University of Michigan Law School professor Samuel Gross, finds.

The study's authors said this disparity was evident in all crime categories, but for the purposes of this particular study, the focus was on murder, sexual assault and drug crimes.

In cases of murder, the report said one reason for the high number of wrong convictions is the higher number of murders in the black community.

"But homicide rates alone do not explain the high number of African Americans who were falsely convicted of murder or the length of time they spent in prison before release," the report states. "Misconduct and discrimination also played major parts."

"In the murder cases we examined, the rate of official misconduct is considerably higher in cases where the defendant is African-American compared to cases where the defendant is white," Gross said, according to Reuters.

In cases of rape, most wrongful convictions involved cases of black men allegedly raping white women.

"The leading cause of these false convictions was mistaken eyewitness identifications -- a notoriously error-prone process when white Americans are asked to identify black strangers," according to the report.

But in cases of murder, a major factor of wrongful convictions are a result of the criminal justice process having a bias against black defendants "ranging from unconscious bias to explicit racism," according to the study's authors.

"And, as with murder if not more so, black sexual assault exonerees spent more time in prison than their white counterparts," the study adds.

But when it comes to drug cases, the process is different. In most drug cases, there is no obvious victim like in cases of murder and rape. Most cases involve possession or sales of illegal substances -- and "police have essentially unlimited discretion to choose how and where to enforce drug laws, and against whom, which opens the door to pervasive discrimination," the study notes.

The study found that this police-led discrimination is conducted in two ways: Black Americans getting stopped and searched more frequently than whites, and black Americans simply getting framed by police.

"African Americans are also the main targets in a shocking series of scandals in which police officers systematically framed innocent defendants for drug crimes that never occurred," the study states.

Sources: University of Michigan School of Law, Reuters / Photo Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Department of Homeland Security) via Wikimedia Commons

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